Connecting people, ideas and action
Empowering people and organisations to be clear on their roles and plans to make the world a better place.
Five key lessons
It’s not at all surprising that Helga chose to channel her skills and energy into facilitation, coaching and mentoring.
Helga has always helped people. While most teenage girls were preoccupied with boys and Madonna’s fishnets, she was volunteering in the school canteen every day and working on the school’s council and newspaper.
Thirty years later, Helga is still passionate about group and individual empowerment, good decision-making and connecting talk to action
Readily acknowledging the importance of continued learning as skills, desires and positions grow and change over the years, Helga believes her top five key lessons have guided and kept her focussed during her career so far.
1. Know your values
"Keeping your values aligned with your goals is super important. It has allowed me to love what I do and feel good about it."
2. Never miss an opportunity
"Don’t to be too set in your ways about what you want to be and what you want to do. Find a direction – and be open. Be open to opportunities."
3. Find and work with good people
“It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you do it with. Working with and for good people is key. You can have the best job in the world, but if you’re in a toxic environment, you will find it hard to be your best.”
4. Connections are key
“Never be afraid to pick up the phone and have a coffee with someone. People are incredibly open. Of all the coffee meetings I’ve asked for, I’ve only been knocked back once.”
5. Do different things
“I started dance classes after a trip to Cuba in 1999. I then became a part-time dance teacher. With dancing, there is such a broad spectrum of people and views. To grow and learn, we can’t hang only out with people who just think the same as we do.”
How Helga got here
Finding and aligning values
Helga and her sisters grew up an environment that encouraged them to consider the world around them, not just within their own family, school and social groups.
The early ambition to become a teacher was replaced by the idea of being a lawyer. After high school Helga started a Bachelor of Laws degree at Monash University and “got involved in clubs, societies, the student newspaper and every other possible thing imaginable”.
After a busy six years completing a law degree and other volunteer university responsibilities, Helga was officially admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
She worked as a lawyer for a couple of years before deciding that law didn’t allow her to work as proactively on empowerment as she wanted to.
Helga then joined the union movement.
Working with good people
“I found that working in the union movement was different to practising law. It was all about working collectively and not individually. It was proactive. It was about building the skills and confidence of our workplace leaders.”
Helga began her 15-year union movement career as a training liaison officer then an industrial officer where she learned about unions and industrial relations. After a couple of years, twenty-something Helga decided it was time to travel. A year later, as she was preparing to return home, the ASU asked her to do a three-month fill-in role.
“I did the interview from Turkey. I faxed through a hand-written application. I thought I’d only be there for three months and pay off my holiday debt. I left the ASU 12 years later. My final role was Assistant Secretary, which is like being the deputy CEO.”
Her time with the ASU was all about working with good people – her fellow ASU co-workers and the union members.
“As a union organiser, your role is to identify good workplace leaders – to tap them on the shoulder, train, mentor and support them in their role. I delivered a lot of training. I also did train-the-trainer while I was at the ASU.
“What I’ve done all my life is empower people.”
Being open to opportunities
These days, 15 years is a long time to work in any field. Helga began to notice interesting work underway in other sectors and organisations she felt were also aligned to her values.
“It was time to stretch myself, to learn. It was around the time of "An Inconvenient Truth" and I wanted to make a contribution in the sustainability space. I applied for a role at Sustainability Victoria, but didn’t get it, which, in the end, was a blessing - it wasn't the right role for me".
“Then I was told that they had something else in mind for me. So I had coffee with the Deputy CEO and was offered a facilitator role. It was perfect for me. Working across the organisation on challenging projects. It was great. I worked for Sustainability Victoria for three years and learned an enormous amount and met a fabulous group of colleagues in both the organisation and the sector".
What to do when looking for opportunities?
“It’s important to have an idea of the direction you want to go in, not necessarily the actual destination.”
While with Sustainability Victoria, Helga undertook the Leadership Victoria Williamson Community Leadership Program in 2010. It was yet another turning point in her career.
“What I got out of it were connections. A great course that fostered great connections. And it was one of the Leadership Victoria course alumni who told me about my next role, the Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project CEO role.”
It was a challenging and rewarding role working with a small team and limited resources to assist asylum seekers living in the community and in abject poverty.
“After 18 months we merged with another organisation because we desperately needed to build capacity at the back-end. I was the CEO of the smaller agency. The CEO of the larger agency stayed on to manage the merged organisation.”
“I learnt an enormous amount. It was crazy busy with daily crises - no matter how busy and urgent things are, I would always keep some time for the proactive or you’ll just spin your wheels forever.”
Helga initially searched for another leadership role while at the same time offering facilitation, coaching and mentorship services on a freelance basis. Her network of connections provided a consistent flow of work.
“A few months on I decided to focus on my own practice as I was having a ball. By the end of 2012 I started building."
“If you’d asked me three years ago if I’d go off and start my own practice, I would’ve said ‘no’, that I like to be part of a team and an organisation. At the moment I’m enjoying the diversity of my work. And I get to do things like Board Kickstarter and work with some of this country’s greatest women and organisations.”
She’s still doing different things
The one-time high school Dux likes to be busy.
Helga is currently a YWCA Victoria and Social Housing Victoria board member, as well as a presenter for Leadership Victoria’s Ignite Leadership program.
Over the years she has completed:
Train the Trainer
Williamson Community Leadership Program
Board Orientation Series (Leadership Victoria)
Adaptive Leadership Intensive (Social Leadership Australia)
Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching
AICD Company Directors Course
She is a member of:
Australian and Victorian Facilitators Network
International Association of Public Participation
Institute of Learning Professionals
Fundraising Institute of Australia
International Coaching Federation
Australian Institute of Company Directors
Outside of her work, she is a keen bushwalker – although doesn’t hike as regularly as she would like. She has hiked Kokoda, Macchu Piccu, Mount Kinabalu, the Overland and has completed Oxfam Trailwalker. She has even competed at a national level in modern jive.
“Over the years I’ve volunteered for everything – from Oxfam Trailwalker, to Moreland Theatre Company’s front-of-house, to the RRR Radiothon, to Bicycle Victoria’s Around the Bay.”
Her role as an independent facilitator coach and mentor is currently giving her the greatest opportunity to “meet new people and learn new things”.
She has delivered board evaluations, lessons learned, engagement strategies, developed complex programs and workshops and has conducted training in business planning, governance, risk management, occupational health and safety, communication skills, negotiation skills and membership engagement.
“It’s fun and challenging – no two days are the same.
“I didn’t have this path in mind when I was at school, or practicing law, or at the ASU, that I would eventually be working in this field, but looking back, it does feel like a natural progression.”